« PreviousContinue »
There is one topic, however, in reference to which a few suggestions may not be useless. Science is universal. Its laws are every where the same; and its language should be so in order that the scientific, wherever they are to be found, may understand each other. In every country there may be peculiarities of geological formation; and yet there are few, perhaps, which may not be brought within some settled rule of generalization. The employment of local terms, or such as are invented to express mere modifications of condition in the substances to which they are applied, is objectionable, because those terms are not understood unless they are accompanied by definitions; and with this accompaniment, science is in danger of becoming confused and complicated by a nomenclature more extended than the differences which it is intended to designate. Certainly nothing is gained, but much may bo prejudiced, by an unnecessary multiplication of terms. The scientific of all countries should aim, therefore, to exclude from their researches and investigations, every thing which can, by possibility, create confusion in the n,inds of their co-laborers in the same fields of investigation. In the geological formations of America and Europe, great similarity has been found, although some of the characteristic strata of the eastern continent are wanting here. Truth is, unquestionably, the great object to be sought for in all our investigations, and it should be pursued without leaning to either side. But if in our geological examinations, any bias is felt, it is likely to be most innocent when it leans to the discovery of resemblances rather than differences; for under the influence of a strong desire to strike out a new path, there is some danger that the beaten track of observation may be unwisely abandoned.
ZOOLOGY. In this department it is contemplated by the resolution of the Assembly, to furnish a list of the native animals of the State, and procure specimens of them for preservation. The first of these objects may be attained without difficulty; but in some cases the latter will be attended with considerable labor and inconvenience, and some expense, as several species of animals which were frequently found while the State was comparatively a wilderness, have nearly disappeared, as their places of abode have been invaded by the approaches of settlement.
Quadrupeds. The fiercer species are now almost extinct in this State. The catamount is rarely found, nor has its place in the order of carnivorous animals, as is believed, been fixed beyond dispute. In the catalogue of animals in Massachusetts, appended to Mr. Hitchcock's survey, * the cougar, panther and catamount, are found under the species “felis concolor" of Linnæus. In Harlan's Fauna Americana,t the cougar is found under the species “felis concolor," and the panther under the species “felis onga.” In a note appended to a description of the species “felis concolor,” the
cougar de Pennsylvanie" of Buffon is considered as a variety. In Godman's American Natural History,f it is remarked that a great deal of confusion exists as to the panther, which is decided by Temmink to be the “felis pardus" of Linnæus. But neither in Godman nor Harlan is the term catamount to be found. It is, indeed, a local appellation hardly known excepting in this State and in New England, where but a few years since the animal was often, but is now rarely, seen. The catamount and the panther are by some considered as belonging to the same species; but this opinion is called in question by others.
The panther still exists in this State, and should specimens of both be procured, the question of their identity with each other, or with any known species, may be solved.
The beaver is rarely met with in the northeastern States, and there will be great difficulty in procuring a specimen here. Possibly it may be found in the interior of the northern district. It is in this district only that a specimen of the catamount can be obtained, if it can be found at all.
The moose (cervus alces of Linnæus) is as rare as the catamount. If found at all, it will probably be, like the other, in the mountainous region between Lake George and the river St. Lawrence. This animal is supposed to be of the same species as the elk of northern Europe:but this opinion is questioned, and it is only by comparison that it can be determined. A few years since two of these animals were killed in Herkimer county. Their skins were stuffed, and they are still preserved at Fairfield. The elk of Canada (cervus Canadensis) is altogether an inferior animal both to the
'Page 526. | Page 95. Vol. 1, page 291.
Richardson's Fauna Boreali Americana, page 332, where a deseription of the animal may be found. See also Godman's American Natural History, vol. 2, pago 274.
moose and the Scandinavian elk, though sometimes supposed from identity of name to be of the same species as thelatter.
It may be necessary to procure a specimen of the beaver beyond the limits of the State.
The resolution of the Assembly requires a specimen to be procured. The animal must be considered as an existing species in the State; and if specimens of our native animals are preserved at all, those which are credited to us, must be included in the number, in order to carry into effect the intention of the Assembly. Whenever it is practicable, the skins should be stuffed at the time the animals to be preserved as specimens, are taken. With respect to the smaller quadrupeds, it will almost always be found convenient to do so; but with respect to the larger kinds, it may be necessary, on account of the inconvenience of transportation, to preserve the skins for stuffing at a fu: ture time. In all cases the skeletons of the animals should be prepared, and their comparative anatomy noticed.
In ornithology, the United States are in advance of every other country. The investigations of Wilson, Charles Bonaparte and Audubon have made the list of the birds of America nearly complete. The whole number credited to the United States is about four hundred. Of this number, probably about one-half are to be found in New York. There are now in the Albany Institute specimens of about one hundred and twenty species of the birds of this State, which have been collected by the unassisted efforts of that association.
In this department of zoology, there will be no difficulty in making a complete list and procuring a corresponding suite of speci
Fishes, Testacea, Zoophytes, &c. In these branches of zoology, the field to be examined is extentensive and almost unexplored. Our fishes especially, both of salt and fresh water, are but little known. There have been some interesting papers published from time to time in philosophical journals in relation to them, and several new species, as is supposed, have been discovered. But there never has been a systematic examination of the inhabitants either of our rivers or lakes, or the waters surrounding Long-Island. As far as they go, the articles
osed of Mr. Lesueur, references to which will be found at the end of
this report, are of great value.
Our shells, whether of marine, lake, river,or land production, embit deserve a very critical examination, more especially as the foscons: sil remains of this extensive tribe of animals, both of living of our and extinct species, are considered as affording the most certain ced 193
criteria for determining the priority of existing geological formaeffect - tions in the order of time. There is no department of our natural the history, which, for scientific purposes, requires a more careful in5 spec vestigation. Specimens should be preserved for a systematic clasIt is sification and arrangement; and it is by no means improbable that
these collections, with the fossil specimens, which may be found imbedded in our rocks and soils, will be instrumental in showing
the identity of formations here and in the old world, which have be a hitherto been considered entirely different in their geological cha
With the exception of the information contained in a single paper in Silliman's Journal, on the sponges on the shores of LongIsland, * it is believed that we have nothing in relation to this class of substances, which are considered as having "an animal nature under forms approaching those of vegetables," and constituting, as it were, a connecting link between the animal and vegetable kingdoms. Sponges are found in a fossil state, in some of the early formations,† and frequently in the chalk formation of England. Under the generic term, zoophytes, seven hundred and sixty-one species have been noticed as occurring in a fossil state. I At Corlear's Hook, large quantities of fossil milleporites have been discovered. To this order of organic life belongs the relic discovered by Mr. Hitchcock, at West-Springfield, in Massachusetts, supposed by him to be a Gorgonia—a supposition leading, by a natural association, to a train of interesting considerations connected with carlier periods of the geological history of the region in which the relic was found.
This numerous order of animals, like the testaceous, will require a critical examination—the more so, for the reason that litile attention has been paid to them. In Silliman's Journal, however, will be found several articles from Mr. Say, in reļation to
Vol. 1, p. 149. + Parkinson on Organic Remains, p. 48.
zoophytes in the United States, principally of such as have been found in a fossil state, and among them, several which have been discovered in New York are noticed.
Insects. Appended to Mr. Hitchcock's report of the geological survey of Massachusetts, is a list of the insects found in that State, prepared by Dr. T. W. Harris, amounting to 2,350 species; but it is not accompanied with any description of them. The resolution of the Assembly requires nothing more than a complete list with a full series of specimens. Yet in connexion with such an account of the entomology of this State, as a part of its natural history, certainly no considerations are of greater importance than those which relate to economical purposes. The destructiveness of many species of insects to vegetation is rarely considered and not often known, perhaps, in its full extent. Yet it is not unusual to see the wheat crop of extensive districts destroyed by the weevil, fruit trees stripped of their foliage by caterpillars, and whole fields of vegetation cut down by grasshoppers and locusts. That much of this devastation might be guarded against by a better knowledge of their habits, cannot be doubted. By studying these, in connection with their changes, and the periods of their increase, they may be in a great degree counteracted in their invasions, and the cultivator secured in the enjoyment of the fruits of his labor. Such facts as fall under the notice of the observer in completing his list, and procuring specimens, should be reduced to writing, and preserved for such future disposition as may be deemed advisable.
BOTANY. The flora of New-York is in a highly advanced state, and all the materials exist for an extensive collection of specimens. To make it complete, some labor and investigation will be necessary. The catalogue of plants appended to Mr. Hitchcock's Report on the Geology of Massachusetts, contains 594 genera and 1,737 spee cies; but it is not probably complete, and it embraces several exotic plants, which have been introduced or naturalized. The indigenous plants of North America probably equal 3,500 species. Of these about 2,500 species will probably be found in the Northern States. This estimate, however, is exclusive of cryptogamous, plants, as ferns, mosses, sea-weeds, &c. which are included in the catalogue of the plants of Massachusetts, under the denomination of flowerless plants.